Thursday, November 11, 2010

Mood in Zen art

Reading books on Zen Buddhism, and taking a class about moving a Zen practice into moment-to-moment awareness, I came across a description of four moods in Zen art (Watts, Alan, 1957. The Way of Zen. Vintage Books, New York., pp. 181-187). I immediately recognized the descriptions in poetry I had read even many years ago, that remained with me because the mood, it turns out, was so powerful. In fact, this chapter on Zen in the arts comes at the end of The Way of Zen, and I thought the book's powerfully expressed insights more or less over, and then, whoosh. Recognition. It occurs to me that these seconds, even parts of seconds, of insight are all and everything there is. I'm reading this book again.

One of the moods is called aware, but not the English word, aware. It's a Japanese word that Watts describes as "extremely untranslatable." He characterizes the mood as "that moment of crisis between seeing the transience of the world with sorrow and regret, and seeing it as the very form of the Great Void." All there is. Transcending the duality of knowing and not-knowing.

His example, attributed to Basho, translated by Blyth (see text and footnote on p. 184):

The stream hides itself
 In the grasses
  Of departing autumn.

Which inspired me, having just completed another couple of hours of work in the fall garden, to express aware through Ikebana and haiku:

First frost scares no flower
First frost scares no flower
  Leaves don't decide to fall
      Bulbs up already.

It's not just that there will be a spring, but that it inheres in fall. And it does not care. And yet!

And the class is wonderful -- Austin Zen Center, taught by Joe Hall. He inspires us all!

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